Status Update, WiFi Radiant Infloor System

My Radiant infloor system uses RAUPANEL which delivers 32BTU's per square foot at 110 degree water.

My Radiant infloor system uses RAUPANEL which delivers 32BTU’s per square foot at 110 degree water.

About 2 months ago I started dabbling in my spare time building a low-cost, low foot print smart control that will not only monitor my radiant in floor system but also control it.

The system is designed to be VERY low-cost and incredibly tiny making it easy for anyone with a hydronic heating system to control and monitor their hydronic heating system from anywhere in the world.

Two things inspired me to build a Hydronic Smart Control, the first is my love of radiant heating and the second is my passion for the ecobee smart thermostat which is an awesome device. ecobee has inspired me to put my programmer hat on and get the soldering iron out and the result is my very own radiant smart control.

Since my last post I now have my system up and running and monitoring my radiant in floor system. The code is 50% complete and internet monitoring enables me to see what my system is doing at any time but more importantly it gives me the ability to control my system. Features so far;

  • No computer required to run the system
  • Very small footprint ( fits in your palm of your hand )
  • Cloud storage of data through a wifi connection
  • Multi zone monitoring
  • Multi Zone control ( almost complete )
  • Monitoring equipment run time ( almost complete )

The old adage ‘size matters’ means a lot to me with this control. The last photo I posted of the control it was the size of my business card. The new version which I am not ready to share a photo of just yet is now the size of a box of matches and has all the same functionality.

Below you can checkout a screen grab of my online dashboard. I can access my REHAU Radiant in floor system from any smart phone or computer from anywhere in the world. I am currently uploading data on a 5 second interval to the cloud and showing current RAUPanel floor temperature as well as the average temperature over a 24hour period and a graph of the last few hours. ( Edit: Just noticed its saying C and not F for temperature… whoops! That will be fixed shortly! )

RAUPanel Radiant Infloor Smart Control

For those curious RAUPanel delivers up to 32 BTU’s per square foot at 110 degree water making it one of the most efficient heating systems in the world. With my radiant control I can not only see when the system is running and what the temperatures are and turn it on and off but I can also do some basic performance benchmarks to see how well my system works at different water temperatures and flow rates as well as how quickly my house warms up under those conditions.

My ‘Smart’ Wifi Enabled radiant in floor system is I think a cutting edge advancement to hydronic heating that anyone  can afford and use. ( Now if only I could think of a name for it ).

 

How I Stopped WordPress Comment Spam

WordPress Comment Spam is a massive pain in the ass and even those of us who like to think we ‘know what we are doing’ have a serious problem with it. On one of the sites I run I was getting anywhere from 10-50 spam comments a day. Now to be clear they are all properly getting flagged as SPAM but I do not want to spend my Sunday afternoon deleting 1,814 spam messages every few weeks if I can help it.

Fortunately for those reading this I have a solution courtesy of Grant Hutchinson that so far is working spot on with ZERO spam messages sitting waiting to be reviewed or deleted. Considering I normally have thousands ( because of the size of the site ) this is a big leap forward to stopping WordPress comment spam.

Update: It has been 24hours and I still have no spam messages, no complaints of comments not going through and more importantly lots of regular comments clearing. So I definitely still give this a thumbs up.

Grant Hutchinson’s fix is quite simply a list of 12,000 phrases, patterns, and keywords commonly used by spammers and comment bots in usernames, email addresses, link text, and URLs. To implement this SPAM stop for WordPress is quite easy, login to your WordPress site, go to Settings  / Discussion and under comment moderation paste this list of phrases/patterns and kiss your wordpress spam comments good bye!

wordpress comment spam

While you are on your comments page I also encourage you to change the comment hold to make sure it holds all comments with 1 link or more. ( See Screenshot ).

So how good does Hutchinson’s WordPress Spam killing phrases and patterns work? From my short-term tests it has worked fantastic  however, Jason Cosper ran a test on a client WordPress site that had 800,000 spam comments and this fix flagged 40% of them as spam. That may not seem that great but 40% of 800,000 is a serious chunk of spam that will get blocked!

Jason then exported the comments and ran them locally through an Akismet filter and there were ZERO False positives. So for those of you weighing whether you should be buying Akismet or just trying out Hutchinson’s fix. I think its clear that his method is well worth trying. Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you!

TreeHugger.com Cant Figure Out Smart Thermostats?

TreeHugger.com recently wrote an interesting article with the headline ‘We Need Smart Thermostats Because People are Dumb’ and I simply could not let that article go without a response. As well written as the article is I feel it is incredibly wrong when it comes to the technical benefits of smart thermostats and in particular the thermostat that I have installed in my home, the ecobee.

In the TreeHugger article the author implies that people are ‘dumb’ because they overlook more obvious ways to save money and instead choose to spend money on gadgets that cost you more money…. like a smart Thermostat. The Author Sami Grover gives two specific reasons;

a) Why spend money on expensive thermostats when air sealing, insulation and behavior change deliver more bang for your buck?

b) Smart thermostats encourage you to constantly tinker with your temperature settings. In a well-designed house, that may waste more energy than it saves.

Point A is a valid point but one that requires a bit more thinking. First off what does a smart thermostat cost? In the case of an ecobee Smart Si it is on average $160.00. What is the average cost to re-insulate, caulk and seal your home? Nowhere near $160.00. Re-insulating and sealing my house would absolutely make a huge difference in my heating bill but my house is finished top to bottom and I simply can not afford it.

As for which is easier changing my wifes behaviour when it comes to messing with the thermostat or using a smart thermostat that eliminates my wifes desire to tinker I think you know which route I went to avoid my wife divorcing me.

This also leads to the authors second statement that smart thermostats encourage people to ‘tinker with their thermostat settings’ wasting energy instead of saving it. If a thermostat is smart enough users should not have to tinker with it and the only time my wife touches our ecobee is to take advantage of a feature I ridiculed when I first saw it…. she checks the weather.

She isn’t tinkering with the thermostat because the ecobee HomeIQ system keeps our home comfortable all the time. How many times have I tinkered with or changed the thermostat settings of consequence since I installed it? Once when I went to Florida with my family. Smart Thermostats do not encourage you to tinker with them if they are working properly and mine is.

Further to Treehuggers comment on changing behaviour one reason that programmable thermostats get a bum rap is because a study by the EPA showed that of the over 25million programmable thermostats in the USA 50% of them go unprogrammed. Why? Because regardless of how well some manufacturer’s may think they are designed consumers and installers ( speaking from experience ) can not figure out how to set them up and program them. This reason alone is why Smart Thermostats are so important to energy savings for the average homeowner.

Its not a human behavior issue if we don’t know how to setup the program on our thermostat.

The biggest thing that a smart thermostat brings is ease of programming and in turn it is passively altering human behavior and also saving you money. The Honeywell Lyric uses Geofencing to turn your heat and cool off when you get within a few miles of your home eliminating the need to learn how to program the thermostat. The NEST uses a proximity sensor to learn your schedule and heat and cool based on when you are home and my personal favorite the ecobee has a ‘moron proof’ programming guide along with HomeIQ Smart Recovery to make it so that even the most hopeless person can program it.

Smart thermostats are perfect for dumb people or lazy people who do not want to learn how to run a program or setup a thermostat. Are all smart thermostats made equal? Of course not but categorically ruling them out as a complete waste of money is as TreeHugger.com puts it, dumb.

In the case of my ecobee thermostat it can easily pays for itself in a year ( see the numbers here ). Could I have save this money without a smart thermostat? Sure but could the average homeowner? Smart thermostats are not for dumb people they are for people who are not HVAC guru’s and need help saving money the simplest and cheapest way possible with a better stat. A smart thermostat.

Disclaimer: I do not work for ecobee but I love their product ( clearly ) and we offer it in our line up of products at my place of employment. These opinions are mine and mine alone. 

Adding Captions to Sorgalla jCarousel

I recently was tasked to write up a custom homepage carousel for ‘featured’ content on one of the leading gaming sites on the internet. I am not the kind of person who is going to reinvent the wheel and immediately went hunting for a slider that had the base features I needed. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of sliders but I ended up settling on Sorgalla as the base for my carousel.

Visually JCarousel by Sorgalla is a very slick jquery carousel and the developer did a fantastic job programming it. The only downfall for me was that it was designed to be images only, without links and without captions. The site I am working on is hosted with wordpress and I wanted to use it for a featured slider which includes headers / captions, etc so I had to do some modifications which I am going to share.

Your Sorgalla carousel by default will look like this;

<div class="jcarousel">
<ul>
<li><img src="../_shared/img/img1.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt=""></li>
</ul>
</div>

The above demo code looks like so using the base CSS;

sorgalla jcarousel default

To setup Jcraousel captions in my case I pulled data from WordPress and stored it in the ALT and title field for each image.  So my version of the Sorgalla Carousel code looks like so;

<div class="jcarousel">
<ul>
<li><img alt="caption" title="article-title" src="../_shared/img/img1.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt=""></li>
</ul>
</div>
<div class="image-caption"></div>

Simple right? Using the Sorgalla Jcarousel api I wait for the next ‘targetedin’ image to load and when it does I grab meta data from the image, namely the title and ALT and I then write that data to a DIV called ‘image-caption’.

  $('.jcarousel').on('jcarousel:targetin', 'li', function(event, carousel)
                {
                    var comment = $(this).find('img').attr('alt');
                    var title = $(this).find('img').attr('title');
                    if(comment) $('.image-caption').html('<strong>'+title+'</strong> '+comment);
                });

The final results look like the screenshot below. In my example I also added links using the same method above. Hopefully you find this helpful and will save you pulling your hair out.

sorgalla jcarousel with captions

ecobee Thermostats Improve Employee Productivity by 44%

I am a huge fan of the ecobee product ( we sell them at work ) and think that as far as smart thermostats go they have the industry figured out. They may not get all the press that NEST does but the ecobee has some of the most innovative logic built into it when it comes to smart thermostats.

ecobee has HomeIQ which they describe as the following;

home-iq-detailsOver the last 3 years, ecobee has collaborated with some of the brightest scientists in the field of energy conservation to develop this unique and innovative service.

Home IQ takes thousands of data points, automatically collected through your ecobee thermostat, and uses advanced math and physics to create a model that learns about your home, and provides you with insights into your home’s energy performance.

Unlike alot of other so called smart devices the ecobee collects 18 months of data which includes run time of the equipment, stages of operation, weather conditions, wind speed and so much more .They use this data in HomeIQ to heat your home and that kind of data makes for one heck of a smart thermostat.

This translates into savings but this kind of data collection also makes the ecobee very efficient at heating and cooling and keeping us more comfortable. The ecobee knows in YOUR building specifically how long it takes to heat and cool. All of these cool as beans features have resulted in a common slogan when it comes to ecobee which is as follows;

‘ecobee can save you up to 28% on your heating and cooling bill’

As cool as that slogan is and as much as I love putting money back in my wallet I have a new slogan that is sure to set the ecobee commercial thermostat market on fire;

‘ecobee thermostats improves employee productivity by up to 44%’

I know a few of you are now saying yep you just made that up. Kinda but not really. I dont have a study that shows an ecobee specifically makes you more efficient but I do have a study that shows that a thermostat just like it will increase employee efficiency.

Cornell University Researchers did a study where they looked at the thermostats in an insurance office and what they discovered is that employees who were not cold in the office made 44% more errors and were half as productive as when they were ‘comfy’.  Cornell Researchers note that the drop in temperature in the winter causes our bodies to waste energy keeping ourselves warm giving us less energy for inspiration, concentration and just getting things done. Quote;

“At 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the workers were keyboarding 100 percent of the time with a 10 percent error rate, but at 68 degrees, their keying rate went down to 54 percent of the time with a 25 percent error rate,” Hedge says. “Temperature is certainly a key variable that can impact performance.”

 

Some of you will rightfully ask can’t any thermostat keep you comfy? Sure it can if your office actually gives you access to it. Why have they not given you access? because Handy Hank keeps jacking the heat up and driving up the heating bills. Or better yet Jetpack Jim keeps trying to tweak it forcing you to call in the HVAC tech and a hefty bill to undo the changes.

Smart thermostats are the future and keeping employee’s comfy with devices like an ecobee clearly make a difference. I am going to stop turning down the ecobee thermostat in our office effective immediately which will increase our office productivity!

NOTE:  this post is intended for entertainment. Although the study really did happen don’t take my summations of ecobee being the only solution to seriously :) Also note I do not work for ecobee but I am open to offers. 

Wireless Radiant Infloor Control

I have a unique set of skills that make HVAC a lot of fun for me. I have been a programmer my entire life but I also work in the HVAC industry giving me a unique perspective on all the ‘smart things’ hitting the market.

Taking my knowledge of HVAC and my skills as a programmer I recently began programming my own MCU’s to control my radiant in floor system.

Over the next month I intend to finalize my radiant in floor ‘smart control’ and I will be tracking my progress here on my blog. I should be clear that this is a hobby but when completed it will be as polished as I can make it and hopefully somebody likes the idea so much they take it over and make it a reality for more than just my in floor system.

Design Concepts;

  • Bring the Smart Thermostat trend to Radiant: The company I work for sells one of the premier brands of radiant in floor systems but controls in general for hydronic systems are lackluster at best. Why is there no wireless options? Why cant I control it from my smart phone? My control is both wireless and internet enabled
  • It must have a small footprint. As of right  now my wireless radiant control is the size of a deck of playing cards or slightly larger than my business card.
  • It must be standalone. I feel that a radiant control that requires a computer is a tragedy. My system does not require a computer it is completely stand alone and can be installed anywhere in a building.  Every 3 seconds it reports data to a cloud server which you can access from your smart phone or computer but no computer is needed to power or run the system.
  • It must be mobile. Currently I am powering mine off of a battery and given its tiny size it is VERY portable. Batteries have serious limitations but I have spent a lot of time and research and I should be able to power mine for 2 years based off the power consumption of the system as it stands ( about 3480 milli volts )
  • It must have WiFi access / Local Backup: My system has WiFi access and all the data that it collects is stored securely on the internet. My system also has an onboard SD card which I will in the future use as a local backup for all the data that is currently being stored in the cloud.
  • It Must be Affordable: If you are going to build a smart control for radiant systems it does nobody any good if you can not afford it. My goal is to have a radiant smart control system that can be built by Engineers or über nerds for under $300.

How the System Currently Works

If you are familiar with a Taco ZVC control box my system works on a very similar premise. The system currently has 4 inputs ( temperature readings ) for four separate zones and those in turn energize one of 4 relays which will in turn energize the pumps ( or actuators ) for each zone. The relays for those wondering are rated up to 10 amps at 250volts which is more than competent for my project or yours.

The device is connected to the cloud and I am using JavaScript to render the results into a browser so that I can monitor what the system is doing.  I can see not only the temperatures in each zone but I am also monitoring the power to my device.

I have set up automated email alerts that notify me under the following conditions;

  • If the system looses power or the battery backup is going to die I will get an email
  • If the zones are not heating correctly or loosing temperature drastically I get an email
  • If the zone has lost communication with the server I get an email.
I took this screenshot of my online reporting about an hour ago. It shows an entire days operation for one zone and the systems power usage in Milli Volts

I took this screenshot of my online reporting about an hour ago. It shows an entire days operation for one zone and the systems power usage in Milli Volts

On My Roadmap of ‘Things to do’

I have put a lot of time into my Radiant floor Smart Control and I have already managed to program in some very interesting ‘gadgets’ have no real world value as well as some cool features I think make Radiant in floor system operation more innovative. A few items on the very near roadmap are;

  • Enable Alerts When System Goes Offline: I need to fine tune how I am going to do this portion but when my system looses internet access or does not report any data in a given period it will send an email so you know the system is offline.
  • PID Control: I am going to add a proper PID control to my temperature sensors so that it will efficiently get to the set point. I have the code just need the time to implement it.
  • Max / Min Floor Temperature: I will be adding in min/max floor temperature settings to the controller to make sure that my floor is always comfortable but that it is also not ever going to overheat the floor which can cause damage and discomfort. Nobody likes a hot floor.
  • Launch a Website for the Project: I intend to launch a Site for the online portion very soon so that anyone can see the data that is being collected.
  • Make the System even Smaller: I have already found a smaller MCU which I can hopefully program and achieve what I have done already with an even smaller footprint. The new MCU is just about the size of a small pack of matches which is exciting to me. It also costs half as much as the prototype I built.

That is all I have for now but  I will continue to update and add new blogs on this topic as I make progress.

Radiant Infloor Smart Control up against a blank business card just to show size / scale of the project right now.

Radiant Infloor Smart Control up against a blank business card just to show size / scale of the project right now.

Turn on PHP Error Logging for Admins in WordPress

In my last post I reminded you all how to turn on error monitoring and I decided I wanted to add a quick foot note to that in a new post.

I do quite a bit of custom code for people who use wordpress and recently I did a very simple hack so that WordPress Admins would see any page errors but regular users would not. The code is quite simple and is as follows


if(is_admin())
{
error_reporting(E_ALL);
ini_set('display_errors', 'on');
}

I put this code in header.php and it will display on the page any PHP errors as they happen but ONLY for administrators. Regular users will not see the php errors. Its a nice way to do php debugging without interfering with readers.